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Seminary evacuation prepares for Gustav

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley called for a mandatory evacuation of the main campus due to Tropical Storm Gustav. The evacuation will begin Aug. 29 and continue through Aug. 30.

This is the first evacuation of New Orleans Seminary since the approach of Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005 -– three years ago to the day of the evacuation announcement.

Seminary offices were to close at 3 p.m. on Aug. 29. All seminary residents are expected to evacuate the main campus by noon Aug. 30. Students are encouraged to frequently check the seminary’s website, www.nobts.edu, for changes or updates to the evacuation and return schedule.

Kelley cited the unpredictable nature of Gustav as the primary reason he called for the early evacuation. Safety of the seminary family, Kelley said, is his first priority.

“The movements of Tropical Storm Gustav are still undefined, and the forecasters do not know where it’s going to make landfall,” Kelley said. “However, indications are that it could be somewhere in the New Orleans area, so we are moving ahead with plans to evacuate our campus and keep our campus family safe.

“We do not anticipate a major disruption of classes. We believe that by Thursday we will be back to normal.”

While the campus is closed, classes will continue via the seminary’s Blackboard system (an online learning tool).

“I want to emphasize that we are going to keep teaching. We learned in our Hurricane Katrina experience that we are able to continue teaching our classes even without our campus if we need to,” Kelley said. “We will be shifting our students onto our Blackboard and Internet system and will continue to teach.”

Kelley said hurricane evacuations come with living near the Gulf Coast. Despite the risks associated with coastal living, though, he emphasized the importance of having a seminary located in New Orleans.

“It’s important for us to be here for exactly the kind of lessons students learn in a situation like this -– to learn at a deep level of your life … that you are going to trust in God, no matter the circumstances,” Kelley said.

Kelley noted the danger missionaries face in many parts of the world and the tough challenge pastors face in the United States, where most churches are plateaued and declining.

“To have leaders for this day requires raising up a generation of men and women with great confidence in God,” he said. “It’s particularly important that they have that confidence in the midst of trouble and conflict. There isn’t any way to develop that confidence apart from being in trouble and uncertainty and choosing to trust God anyway.

“[Students here] have learned that when you’re in God’s grip, it doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. Your peace of heart and mind doesn’t come from your circumstances. It comes from being in the grip of God.”

Kelley also pointed to the indispensable and strategic role New Orleans plays in the United States and the world.

“This city is one of the most important cities in our nation because of the strategic importance of the river, the amount of the nation’s and the world’s goods that travel through the Port of New Orleans and the importance of the oil production,” Kelley said. “For these and other reasons, there’s always going to be a city of New Orleans. If there’s a city of New Orleans, there needs to be a witness for Christ here. Our seminary wants to be a part of that witness for Christ. …

“Since the storm Hurricane Katrina, we have a greater openness to the Gospel -– greater than we’ve ever seen before,” Kelley said. “So we have an unprecedented opportunity now to root the church even more deeply into the culture of New Orleans.”

The seminary’s emergency management planning team (EMPT) meets regularly before and during the June 1–Nov. 30 hurricane season to prepare for the possibility of an evacuation for hurricanes and other emergencies. The team consists of staff members from a cross section of seminary departments including facilities, housing, student services, communication, campus police and human resources. A liaison from the New Orleans Police Department also serves on the EMPT.

Since Katrina, numerous changes have been implemented in the seminary’s emergency plan to facilitate smoother evacuation and increased communication in the midst of an emergency. One of the most important developments is a priority text messaging system designed to facilitate emergency communication. The opt-in system sends brief messages about closures and other emergencies to cellular telephones.

Early Aug. 29, the seminary issued a priority text message announcing the closure. A similar statement was posted on the seminary website. Later that morning, Kelley briefed the seminary staff on the evacuation order.

In the three years since Hurricane Katrina, the seminary has made a concerted effort to obtain an evacuation plan and contact information for every member of the seminary family. These plans are submitted yearly. As seminary residents leave the campus, they will be required to complete an additional information card. The information will help the dean of students and human resources offices provide proper care to students, professors and staff members in the event of an extended evacuation.

The seminary has a plan in place to address the computing needs during an evacuation. The plan calls for moving a number of critic computer operations to the seminary’s North Georgia Hub in Atlanta.

“After Katrina, we began the process of renting a truck in June through November, the months of hurricane season,” Kelley said. “We then customize the inside of that truck so that, if a storm threatens the city, we are able to roll our computers, servers and Internet equipment onto the truck. The truck heads to Atlanta where they will roll it off and hook it up. It generally takes less than 24 hours to move, and the webpage is generally down for less than an hour.”
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations and Michael McCormack is a staff writer for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

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